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Cheyney 2017 Graduates Didn't Let Messy Weather Rain on their Parade

May 14, 2017

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Cheyney University graduate students are all smiles

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Despite heavy rains, loss of power earlier in the day, and chilly temperatures, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania's 2017 Commencement went on as planned yesterday under a huge white tent outside on the university's historic quadrangle. More than 2200 people attended, some watching from inside the student center where the program was live streamed into the auditorium.

The 2017 graduating class, led by the Class of 1967, celebrating its 50th anniversary, entered the tent to cheers from family and friends. All 195 graduates (including graduate students), joined the line of illustrious alumni that call Cheyney, the nation’s first Historically Black College and University (HBCU), their alma mater. 

Just prior to the ceremony, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, the Keynote Speaker, said, “I came to Cheyney because Cheyney is one of the most famous schools in the country, the oldest HBCU in the United States. Its roots go way back into the early 19th Century and I’m honored to be here.”

Before addressing the graduates and the spillover crowd, the Governor, a steward of democracy, and a servant of the people, received an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service from Cheyney, making him an alumnus and a Cheyney Wolf (the school mascot).

“You know, he’s been a ‘Wolf’ a long time,” Dr. Frank G. Pogue, Cheyney’s Interim President, jokingly told the audience, resulting in laughter and applause.

“My fellow classmates,” Gov. Wolf began. “Education from Cheyney University and any university is an act of self-liberation. Among all of the other things that we need to do to make society fair and more just, having an education and using it to its fullest extent is central to creating the kind of life that we want to live.” Education, he said, can change lives.

Herbert Keith Lee, Jr., Cheyney’s Outstanding Master of Public Administration (MPA) graduate, couldn’t agree more. He is the first student to complete Cheyney’s MPA program in one year.

“It was important to me to be in a graduate program that came from the perspective of an African American working in a leadership position on the governmental level,” Lee said. During his time at Cheyney, Lee interned with Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., helping to draft legislative documents.

Class Valedictorian, Donnise Burrell, an Education major and honors scholar who spent her senior year student teaching Kindergarteners at Chester Community Charter School, in Chester, PA, took full advantage of the educational and professional opportunities offered by Cheyney and its Keystone Honors Academy. She is headed back to Baltimore, MD to become a teacher.

“I owe a lot to Cheyney. I had many offers to other colleges,” said Class Salutatorian Matt Corbin, a Communications major. In the end, a free ride from the Keystone Honors Academy swayed him to say no to Temple, West Chester, St. Johns, Stony Brook and the other universities, and yes to Cheyney, a decision he’ll never regret. He is moving to Atlanta, GA in August to take on a Sales position with Miller Coors, a position that he secured after attending a professional conference through Cheyney.

In a very touching tribute, Dr. Pogue posthumously awarded the late Edgar “Sonny” Allen Harris, Jr. (’58), professor at Cheyney for more than three decades, an honorary Doctor of Pedagogy. Calling him an “unparalleled advocate for the university, for civil rights, and for social and economic justice,” Dr. Wesley Pugh, Professor and Chair of the School of Education and Professional Studies, said that Harris “relentlessly pursued fairness and equity for causes that few would have been courageous enough to address.”

“I am humbled and honored to accept this Doctorate of Pedagogy on behalf of my husband,” Joan Harris (’70), a proud Cheyney alumna, said. “He was a man with a driving force. His heart and spirit always called him home, and that home was Cheyney. He worked until his last days to see Cheyney University thrive. He was determined throughout his life to see this university and all of its students reach their greatest potential.”

One by one, members of the Class of 2017 walked across the stage to receive their hard earned degrees. It was their moment to shine, and shine, they did. Dreary skies and relentless rain could not dampen their spirits.

Addressing the graduates one last time, Dr. Pogue told them, “We are so proud of you. Continue to carry on the tradition of excellence that is the cornerstone of our historic legacy and go out and contribute to positive social action that results in a better America for everyone.”